It seems that Russia's most prominent pensioner has tired of his vacation-home political niche. To all appearances, the former president has resolved to demonstrate to his best PR agent, Yegor Ligachev - who once brought him to the Kremlin throne with a single phrase: "Boris, you are wrong" - that he is actually right, in many respects. In any case, predictions that Yeltsin is gearing up for a comeback to big-time politics are not entirely groundless, though they are somewhat disputable.
With a new lease on life gained at special medical centers, Yeltsin has suddenly returned to the nation's TV screens, intruding his presence into the prime-time gaps between soap operas and ads for mouse-traps.
Viewers were particularly struck by his "Second Coming" during his encounter with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Since Yeltsin can't possibly be described as naive, his apparently baffled question - about who exactly in Russia is reluctant to sign the Russia-Belarus treaty which Yeltsin himself created - can only be considered as provocational, and primarily directed at President Putin. Who should know better than Yeltsin that such treaties are signed only by incumbent presidents?
Such gaffes do not happen by chance, in big-time politics. Neither did Yeltsin's musings, on camera, about which Cabinet ministers are performing well or poorly, in his opinion. Even when he was president, Yeltsin had no very clear idea of the composition of the crystal lattice of Russia's governance; he didn't even know the names of many ministers back then; so why is he taking a sudden interest in ministers now?
The surface answer: Yeltsin has apparently decided to show Putin that political decision-making - or final approval, at least - is still his own pastime. President Putin made no mystery of these vacation-home intrigues; at his latest Kremlin news conference, he answered with clarity and restraint, if somewhat tensely, that Yeltsin is free to express any opinions he likes; but fateful decisions - including final approval - are the prerogative of the incumbent president.
According to our sources, Putin's reply aroused a storm of negative emotions among Yeltsin's inner circle; after all, Putin was indirectly letting Yeltsin's "Family" know that he is not guaranteeing them eternal bliss.
Undoubtedly, all of these Yeltsin escapades in the style of "the emperor's father" have been good preparatory work.
Of course, nothing poses a threat to Yeltsin himself; he is protected by a law granting him lifetime welfare. But his inner circle - which has recently increased by another son-in-law, Valentin Yumashev - is panicking. And this is the group that's writing the scripts Yeltsin is following in his current spate of political innovation.
Thus, it is no coincidence at all that the leaders and members of certain political parties have been mentioning Yeltsin's name so frequently of late.
Sergei Yushenkov, a staunch member of Liberal Russia, recently made a statement to the effect that his party is prepared to cooperate with Yeltsin; among other things, he said that "Yeltsin's invisible presence hovers over all political processes in Russia". If Yushenkov was merely relating a bad dream he'd had during a nap after lunch - well, that may be tedious, but it's not a great concern. But what if this friend of Boris Berezovsky was describing something he had actually seen?
Undoubtedly, for Liberal Russia and Yushenkov personally the prospect of recruiting Yeltsin into their ranks is very tempting indeed: it could enable the Liberal Russia party to surmount the five- percent barrier at the parliamentary elections, thus securing its members parliamentary immunity from prosecution for another term, as well as substantial material assistance from Berezovsky's coffers. However, this group is unlikely to appeal to Yeltsin himself; or, more precisely, his team has no further need of Berezovsky.
The rumors being spread from the depths of the Union of Right Forces seem more well-founded. They make no secret of the thought that securing Yeltsin as the party leader - instead of the perenially immature Boris Nemtsov - would be a terrific boost for the URF's chances of crossing that infamous five-percent barrier.
Even from the historical point of view, the URF ought to be more to Yeltsin's taste than any other political formation. Firstly, its "cover" is provided by none other than Anatoly Chubais, politician and electricity sector executive; someone who is close to Yeltsin and the "Family" in all respects. Secondly, the party's present leader, Nemtsov, was once plucked from the provinces of Nizny Novgorod and brought to Moscow by Yeltsin himself, very opportunely. As a consequence, it turned out that only Nemtsov's closest associate, Andrei Klimentiev, was held accountable for the misappropriation of $20 million allocated for construction of river-boats; Klimentiev served a prison term for it.
Of course, all the above-mentioned political players understand that President Putin is aware of the whole story. Thus, as party members - and as individuals, or organizations - they are naturally disinclined to become hostages to the upcoming elections. (Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)